The New York Times‘ media section has two contradictory headlines sitting on it right now which tell you all you need to know about why CNN made errors in its live coverage of the Boston bombings and the manhunt that followed:
Live TV is hard, especially in emergency situations where the authorities are being stingy with information. CNN briefly reported in error that a suspect had been arrested. It was an honest mistake. It was quickly corrected. And CNN was not the only news outlet to publish incorrect information during the desperate hours after the explosion.
But for some reason, Times media columnist David Carr felt the need to single out the network and crucify it in a long column on April 21. “The Pressure to Be the TV News Leader Tarnishes a Big Brand,” his headline says. “CNN failed in its core mission.”
Yet today, lower down the Times’ media section, is a story by Bill Carter with the sub-headline, “CNN attracted one of its biggest audiences in a decade to its reporting on Friday.”
Live news gets a lot of viewers. Sure, mistakes get made. But what is the network supposed to do? Ignore its sources while it waits for the FBI’s public relations staff to type the official memo?
Besides: The job of TV news is to deliver ratings, because ratings mean advertiser dollars. As Carter noted:
… among viewers between the ages of 25 and 54, which is how advertisers buy commercials on news channels, CNN had 1.34 million viewers, compared with 952,000 for Fox News. In both cases those were the best numbers for CNN for all nonpolitical events since April 2003, when the channel was covering the Iraq war.
If that’s a failure, then CNN could use a lot more of them.
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